What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been… August 26, 2010Posted by Matt in personal stories.
Tags: beebe, car accident, family, friends, head injury, high school, humility
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Fifteen years ago I almost died.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this past weekend marked the anniversary of my near-death experience, that day in my life in which I faced down the reaper. As I mentioned earlier this week, we were involved in a traffic accident last Saturday. Later that day we talked to our parents to let them know we were fine and mom told us, by an interesting coincidence, it was the fifteenth anniversary of the life-altering event that came to be known in our family as “The Wreck.”
It was August of 1995, the first day of school. I was a dashing, 17 year old high school senior, a football player and the frontrunner to be valedictorian of the class of 1996. The prior year I posted the highest ACT score of anyone in my class (32) and was looking to take the test again as a senior just for fun (nerdy, I know) to see if I could ace it. My sights were set on attending Vanderbilt once I left the hallowed halls of Beebe High School and then settling into a probable career in math and science. Needless to say, I was a little full of myself.
But, just when you are expecting a fastball down the middle, life has a funny way of throwing a curve. Whether it is divine providence, a convergence of random variables or, as the great prophet Dylan might say, “A simple twist of fate,” things never seem to go as planned.
Note: I have no recollection of that day, nor for that matter, of much of the years surrounding it, so this narrative is built entirely upon the various versions of the story that I’ve heard over the years.
Like many teenagers, I had a close circle of friends in high school, but probably unlike many others, we had a self-given name, the Turkey Mountain Posse. This group designation came from the area where our gang spent many of our weekends, an off-the-grid camping spot at the end of a barely cleared path just off Turkey Mountain road. Our Posse consisted of a bunch of small town, Arkansas country boys who liked country music, pickup trucks and played football together for the mighty Beebe Badgers. We were quite a crew and did pretty much everything together.
On that fateful day, some of us made the decision to drive over to a nearby town and watch a preseason scrimmage game between one of our conference rivals, Vilonia, and Harding Academy. We loaded into two trucks for the short trip, with four people in my parents’ 1985 4-Runner and the others in a second vehicle behind us, and took off, whooping and hollering like small town 17 year olds do.
There is a small community between Beebe and Vilonia, a country crossroads of sorts, going by the name El Paso. At that time, there was a two-way stop at the one major intersection in El Paso and we were cruising down Highway 64, the road not burdened with a stop sign at the crossroads. As the story goes, we were blasting Hank Williams Jr. (“A Country Boy Can Survive,” to be exact) with the windows down and excitement in the air when the unthinkable happened. Memories turn fuzzy at this point and nobody is quite sure what happened next. Did we see the semi truck blow the stop sign? Did we have any opportunity to react? Nobody knows for sure. All that they remember, at least from what I’ve heard, is “A Country Boy Can Survive,” and the sinking feeling that I was dead. According to them, one of the strangest things about the situation was that, with the exception of an ear that had to be put back together surgically, there was nothing visibly wrong with me, but it was obvious that my condition was serious.
Directly behind us were our other friends, one of whom happened to have an ancient (but, at that time, state-of-the-art), brick-sized cell phone that he used to call for help and to let my parents know what happened. By another stroke of something, whether luck or providence, a doctor who was also heading to the game happened by and told the emergency personnel to rush me to a hospital in Little Rock, rather than closer ones in Conway or Searcy, where they would be more capable of handling my injuries.
For the next week I laid in a purgatory coma, hovering somewhere between life and death in ICU with my friends and family always close by, hanging on every word regarding my condition. The diagnosis: massive head injuries. The prognosis: iffy.
At some point I finally regained consciousness, though I’ve been told that for days afterwards I would sleep as much as 20 hours per day. Following this great awakening, I moved into inpatient rehab, where I spent the next several weeks undergoing speech, occupational, and physical therapy, relearning how to do many of the things I had done without thinking over the previous 17 years. If you’ve ever been in a rehabilitation hospital, you know that the vast majority of residents are elderly, so as the exception I garnered a good bit of special attention from the staff.
Eventually, probably some two months or so after the accident, I was able to rejoin my classmates full time. My football career was obviously over and I dropped a few spots in the class rankings, but I was back to stay. Uncertainty regarding life and the severe learning disability that immediately follows a head injury caused me to abandon my Vanderbilt dream and instead accept a full scholarship at Harding (which I summarily lost, mostly due to the failings of my damaged brain). The losses hurt, but I eventually understood that those things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Relationships, with family, friends, and a higher power, are what truly give life meaning. With the realization that my brain will never work the way it once did, I learned humility.
A few years ago, if someone asked me whether or not I wished things had turned out differently, I would have replied with a definite yes, of course I wished I could have avoided this event. Now, I think I see things differently, maybe a little more maturely. It is part of who I am. If it wasn’t for the wreck, I probably would not have met my wife or have my kids. I may not have the sense of humility that I do now and I may not appreciate life and the people around me as much as I do.
A Diverse Raising May 10, 2010Posted by Matt in family, race.
Tags: children, demographics, diversity, friends, Mississippi, population trends, race, suburbs
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Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, you might say that my kids are growing up as black children in Mississippi.
Last night my oldest daughter, Rachel, was doing one of those little girl playground chants and I was halfway listening when two words caught my ear – “black power.”
“Honey,” I said, “what did you say again?”
She repeated the lines for me, complete with the two words that grabbed my attention earlier.
“Where did you get that from?”
She looked at me with a sly smile on her face, “I learned it from T____”
I smiled back at her, “That’s cool, honey,” and she scampered on her way, saying the little rhymes she picked up from her friends. It’s not often that you hear a 7 year old little white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes use the term “black power.”
Later on I was talking with Diana about it and we both found it very interesting that most of our daughter’s friends are African-American. It seems as though they gravitate toward each other. In close proximity to our house there are six little girls around Rachel’s age (she is 7, so I’ll consider anything from 5 to 9) and of those six, three are white and three are black. While she is friends with and plays with all of them, she shows a definite tendency to prefer the company of the black girls – including the aforementioned T. From what I gather from her about her school friends and who she invites to our home, the pattern tends to hold steady. It’s the same way at our church as well. Though she has close white friends, they are outnumbered by the black ones.
While some of this stems from us – her church friends are the children of our friends – much of it comes directly from her. It is so amazing to me the way that kids do not see color as an issue, a barrier that separates them from each other. The continued experience of diversity is the answer to the prejudice problem that still plagues our society.
I read an interesting article today regarding race and society, this dealing with the changing face of America’s suburbs and how they are moving from being deliberately lily white to something that more matches the general populace. The article details a sort of reverse white flight trend, in which many whites, particularly young professionals, are moving back to the cities, while at the same time the suburban areas are seeing an influx of racial and socio-economic diversity. It’s quite fascinating to look at the numbers.
We live in Southaven, the largest suburb of Memphis, and have been here for six years. During that short time I can tell you that we have seen a good deal of demographic change. According to the latest population estimates I can find, Southaven has about 45,000, making it the fifth largest city in the state – though I suspect that once the latest census figures are tallied we will move ahead of Biloxi and maybe even challenge Hattiesburg. Though our city retains a decidedly white majority (65% vs. 25% black and 10% other), it is quite smaller than the other towns in our county (Olive Branch – 86%, Horn Lake – 83%, Hernando – 76%). In addition to that, our kids’ school is among the most diverse in the county, with a racial breakdown of 62% white and 30% black. This stand in contrast to some of the newer schools in the county which have much larger white majorities (80%+). So, in our section of the Memphis metro area, we have seen many move out to greener (or should I say whiter?) pastures farther away from the Memphis city limits – either to the far, more rural, reaches of the county or out of it altogether.
A large part of me would much rather live in Memphis than where we do now, but if we are going to be suburbanites, at least we can hold know that our children will grow up with diversity. I can think of few things as important as that.
All is Not Well October 3, 2009Posted by Matt in friends.
Tags: friends, ICU, prayers
Two days ago I told of a close friend of ours who suffered a life-threatening injury. By the end of that day it looked as though the worst was past, but we were a bit hasty in our diagnosis. Things have taken a bad turn over the last 24 hours and it does not look well at all. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
Comparing Concussions September 8, 2009Posted by Matt in friends.
Tags: car accident, coping, fellow sufferers, friends, head injury, learning disability
For those of you who don’t know, we spent the past weekend in a Smoky Mountain chateau with a group of people from our church. It was a fine trip and we had a pretty good time, despite the overcrowded areas around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and the fact that having three kids makes vacations anything but restful. We had time to participate in activities and visit with people who it seems we don’t often see outside the walls of the church building.
There was one young lady in particular that I spent time conversing with who I felt a particularly strong bond due to a common experience that we had shared. You see, earlier this year she was involved in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Of course, as most of you know, I was involved in a similar life-altering event some 14 years ago as a senior in high school.
It was quite refreshing to share my experiences with someone who had survived the same sort of accident, for it easy to often think that you are alone and different. One of the toughest realizations that a person must come to grips with following an injury of this nature is that their now-diminished abilities will never return, that they will never be able to learn in the same way again. It is not easy to deal with the fact that you cannot remember things from one day, one hour, or even one minute to the next, nor is it simple to become accustomed to the cloudiness that will always be present in your head. You go through times of deep depression at the thought that things will never again return to normal, that your now-damaged brain will never be able to function in the same way again. It is a learning disability that you can learn to work around in a functional manner, but it is one that can never be corrected. Life goes on and you must adapt and keep moving along.
It was nice to talk to someone who understands first-hand the trials that we, as head injury survivors, must undergo to function in everyday and I hope that my experiences over the past 14 years helped her to put things in perspective for the future.
A Sobering Morning August 7, 2009Posted by Matt in friends.
Tags: cancer, friends, perspective, prayer
I’ll get back to my bad movie script at a later time. Something more serious happened this morning and I really felt the need to tell you about it.
It’s easy for us to lose perspective in the busyness of our lives, to become consumed by our own personal wants and needs, to let the ever-mounting list of work and family related tasks turn into an obsession and divert us away from the trials of others. Then, outside of the little whirlwind we call life, something happens that suddenly grounds us, crashing our narcissistic bubble into the ground with a force that is so sobering we are left speechless.
And that’s what happened this morning.
My friend Jason and I are in similar life situations – early 30’s, married with young children – so naturally we have a good bit in common and talk regularly. About two weeks ago he went to the doctor for an unrelated problem and in the process of checking him out they discovered spots on his liver. So, for the next week or so he underwent a battery of tests that all proved inconclusive. On Tuesday of this week, he underwent a biopsy of his liver and of his bone where additional spots were found. Yesterday he received the results and I heard them this morning: cancer. Liver cancer that has metastasized to some areas of his bones. It is treatable, but still dangerous.
Mortality is a interesting thing, a concept that seems distant and almost nonexistent, especially for young people. So, when it hits you, it hits you hard, blindsiding you with an unfathomable intensity. Two weeks ago he was fine. Today he begins a fight for his life.
So please keep Jason and his family in your thoughts and prayers.
Community Garden Update July 27, 2009Posted by Matt in church, garden.
Tags: community garden, free vegetables, friends, Holmes Road Church of Christ, neighborhood, service
Things are going well at the ol’ garden this summer.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, we have a community garden at our church in Memphis that we use to benefit the residents of that area. Throughout the week, a few of us engage in any needed general maintenance and pick any vegetables that happen to be ripe at the time. On Saturday we do one final picking for the week and then give away our harvest to people in the neighborhood. We generally set up a table by the bus stop at the corner of Holmes and Elvis Presley and give the fruits of our labor to any that come by. So far we have given away nearly everything picked in a very short time on Saturday mornings.
Though this is our second year to do it, I feel as though this time around has been far better than last summer and most of that improvement has come through the amount of help I have received from others. Our inaugural year for the garden, in 2008, was an especially tough summer on me, for I felt as though I was doing almost all of the labor alone. So, because of the perceived apathy around me, I grew very bitter and resentful toward many of my fellow members and, truth be told, I’m still not quite over all of that now, a full year later, but I will say that things have greatly improved. There are two special people in particular, Lynn and Vickie, who have become the greatest helpers one could ask for. Lynn is about my age and has a demanding occupation which takes up much of his time, but he still makes time to come out and help as much as he can. Vickie, who is also my age, is a single mother of lower means and a rough background and is one of the most inspiring people that I know. She has an unmistakably upbeat glow about her, despite her current station in life. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know both of these new friends over the past several weeks. There are others who have helped a great deal as well (Jenny and Becky come to mind) and still more who have come out intermittently as they can, and I am grateful to all of them.
So, as July 2009 comes to a close, I think it is safe to call our Community Garden project as success for the second year in a row. Hopefully, we can spread the word and continue to increase participation and maybe even expand the size in 2010.
My Redneck Past July 13, 2009Posted by Matt in random.
Tags: deer, friends, redneck, small town, true story
Saturday evening we had a couple over for dinner as we often like to do and I think we hit it off pretty well. They are about the same age as us (he’s a little older, she’s a little younger) and share many of our interests and ideals in life, so the four of us ate and visited until 11:30 or so that night. At one point, the conversation turned to the places in which we grew up, what life was like for us in those respective locations, and how we had changed over the years. So, when it was my turn, I spoke of growing up down a gravel road, in the country outside a small town in rural Arkansas.
Things began to get a little more interesting when I started talking about the group of friends with whom I spent much of my time from high school until after college, a gang of sorts that we named the Turkey Mountain Posse (TMP for short). I guess you could say that most of the guys I with whom I associated fit the dictionary definition of redneck (4X4 pickup driving, rebel flag flying, etc.), but most of my descriptions of my old friends came in generalities. It was not until later that I remembered the story from years ago in another life that may go down in history as the most incredibly redneck one ever, so I thought I would share it with you. The name of the main protagonist has been changed, but, seriously, many of you in my old hometown will know exactly who I’m talking about.
My old friend Bill is like a relic from another time, someone for whom the fast-paced world of today holds little interest. A former star football player, he is tall and muscular, with skin bronzed from hours of hard labor in the hot Arkansas sun, sort of an Adonis in camouflage. Bill could regularly be seen driving a large 4X4 Ford pickup truck with a toolbox in the back and a gun rack behind the seats and a cassette player always blaring Hank Williams Jr.’s Greatest Hits. He likes Budweiser, red meat, guns and is distrustful of city people, minorities, and those with worldviews that conflict with his. That being said, he’s a nice guy and a loyal friend, but not someone you want to tangle with.
One night, probably in the late-90’s to early 00’s, a group of us were sitting around a campfire as were often prone to do, listening to Hank sing about his family tradition and embellishing stories of past exploits, when the decision was made to drive back roads. There were not a lot of activities to engage in as a youth in the town where I grew up, so fishing, sitting around a campfire, and driving back roads pretty much summed up our entertainment options. Soon we were crammed into a couple of trucks with car stereos at an ear-splitting volume, rumbling down the dark gravel roads with no destination in mind, just a bunch of country boys socializing on a weekend night.
Bill was riding shotgun in the truck, while I sat with another friend behind him and the driver in the crew cab. As usual, he had at least half a can of Copenhagen in his mouth, causing his bottom lip to protrude far beyond normal and giving him the appearance of Carl from the movie Sling Blade. Our headlights sliced through the thick summer night like a sharp blade through a cloth, illuminating our path beneath the overhanging trees. The sounds of the night could still be heard despite the loudly crunching gravel beneath the oversized mud tires, but all was calm.
Suddenly and without warning there was a flash of white from one side and the truck jolted to a stop in the middle of the deserted path. Bill’s eyes lit up with an animal intensity and before we were even at a complete stop he had leapt from the cab and barreled headlong into the lightless woods with no word to explain his sudden action. I looked at my fellow backseat passenger with bewilderment as to what had just transpired when the driver turned to us, a knowing grin on his face, and spoke one word, “deer.”
Not wanting to miss out on the action, we piled out of the truck along with those following us in the other vehicle and began our trek into the darkened woods carrying a bright spotlight, moving a bit more carefully and with less urgency than our friend.
“Bill!, Bill!” we called out, “Where are you?”
There was no answer, so we moved along, deeper into the inky blackness, tripping over unseen tree roots and keeping our eyes wide open for barbed wire. Finally, after several minutes, a loud grunt (Bill’s main form of communication) greeted our cries. We quickly changed directions and after a few more call-and-responses, we came upon our friend.
The spotlight shined upon a clearing in the trees and there stood our friend, biceps bulging with tension as he held a full grown deer in a headlock. With eyes wide and mouths agape, we stood in frozen shock at the sight before our eyes. Bill, sensing our presence, looked up, grinned and spoke three words, “I got him.”
With a sudden heave, Bill wrenched his arms around and slammed the animal to the ground. His knees in the animal’s side and one hand on its head, he reached into a pocket and produced a knife, its blade gleaming in the spotlight. Then, with no warning whatsoever, the knife sliced an arc through the night air and into the animal’s throat. Its blood poured onto the ground beneath as Bill held down its death throes, until the animal was finally still.
Then, with that same goofy grin coming from a mouth still full of Copenhagen, his clothes and arms stained black with blood, Bill looked up, “Any a’ ya’ll want some deer meat?”
And, yes, this story is true. The image is etched in my mind forever.
I don’t have much contact with Bill or my old friends and longer and it is probably just as well. I don’t think they would take too kindly to a liberal, anti-gun, non-hunter like me anyway.
Oh, and I think our dinner guests would have been pretty amazed at this story, too.
A Memphis Thanksgiving November 27, 2008Posted by Matt in thanksgiving.
Tags: friends, Memphis, thanksgiving
I am thankful for good friends.
With Diana being placed on strict bedrest at the end of last week, we were not quite sure what our Thanksgiving holiday would consist of. It was certain that traveling 130 miles to central Arkansas was definitely off the list, so it began to look more and more likely that our dinner would consist of toast, popcorn, and jellybeans (a la A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving). But, without us having to ask or even really bringing it up, some of our beloved friends came to the rescue.
Chance and Teneshia, along with their adorable daughters, are new members of our south Memphis congregation, having been there only about 2 months or so. In sharp contrast to us, they are both former college athletes at the University of Memphis (he in football and she in track) and are lifetime urban dwellers (where Diana is from the endless suburbia of the California coast and I grew up down a gravel road in small town Arkansas), but somehow our families clicked and for the past several weeks we have been nearly inseparable. We are about the same age (they are a couple of years younger than us) and our kids are the same ages (6 and 3), and we just all really enjoy each other’s company.
When it became apparent that we were not going to be traversing the state of Arkansas for our turkey day, Teneshia immediately invited us to their home, stating that there would, of course, be plenty of food for all of us. So, today we drove over to our very good friends’ Memphis home around south Third Street and enjoyed a cornucopia of home-cooked Thanksgiving staples – turkey and dressing and greens (she made collard and I brought turnip) and a table full of dessert. It was a great feast and one for which I am very thankful.
Matt’s Meandering Mind on Monday – 7/28/08 July 28, 2008Posted by Matt in Matt's Meandering Mind on Monday.
Tags: anniversary, Batman, church, community garden, concert, family news, friends, getaway, homeless ministry
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The community garden giveaway went fairly well this weekend despite the fact that many of our church members had other commitments. The weather has been very hot and dry for the past week or so and it has taken a real toll on production, but hopefully we’ll be able to recover and have better output for the last few weeks of the season.
I am also going to be involved in a newly developed homeless ministry through our church that we are hoping to get underway in the next few weeks. Yesterday evening, the three of us who have emerged as the contacts for this ministry met with our church elders to discuss our ideas and get the proverbial ball rolling. I’ll keep you posted on how things progress.
Diana and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary over the weekend and into the beginning of next week. We were joined together in holy matrimony on August 1, 1998, but D will be gone on the actual night of our anniversary. On Saturday, Aug 2, I’ll be going to the big Dave Matthews/Willie Nelson concert here in Memphis with my brother Jeff. So, Sunday, August 3, we will actually begin the anniversary festivities. We’ll be going down to Greenwood, MS, for two nights as a relaxing getaway and, with the schedules we’ve been keeping lately, it will be needed.
Rachel starts school next week, on Thursday, August 7, and I can’t help but marvel at how early the academic year is beginning nowadays. Maybe, though, this is a sign of things to come and eventually we’ll move to year-round school, which I would be heartily in favor of.
I think we are about the only people in America who have yet to catch the $300M+ cinematic juggernaut, The Dark Knight, but I am really looking forward to when we finally are able to see it. We watched Batman Begins last weekend and I was again reminded of how good a movie it was, despite the overlong Jedi/ninja training that Batman endures with ninja master Qui-Gon Jinn.
Over the weekend I looked up my old college buddy, Bill, (thank God for Google) and had the chance to talk to him for the first time since I graduated back in 2000. He invited our family to come out and visit them in Colorado sometime. I have to say, it’s nice to have friends around the country.
The Stork Cometh July 1, 2008Posted by Matt in friends.
Tags: baby, birth, friends
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We moved to Memphis a little over four years ago, having never really had any good friends in our first six years of marriage. The younger married couples in the churches we attended treated us with a condescending disdain, while most people our ages (we got married young) were still living the hedonistic single life. It was not until we moved to the Memphis area that truly made some wonderful, lasting friendships. One family, in particular, have been very close friends of our for nearly the entire four+ years that we’ve lived in the Mid-South. Though Ryan and Beth Richardson are a few years older than us, our kids are all the same age and we all hit it off early on. Rachel and their daughter, Katie, are best friends and we often joke about Bekah and their son, Jonah, someday getting married. The eight of us have spent a lot of time together over the last few years.
Today, the Richardson clan will increase yet again as they bring forth yet another bundle of joy, a second Richardson boy, into the world to love and care for. Beth will undergo another C-section today and their family of four will become one of five.
Our prayers are with her for a safe surgery and recovery and for the health of baby Aaron.